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COLUMN: M.I.A.'s political influence sets the bar high for other artists



“Freedom, I’dom, me’dom. Where’s your we’dom?” sings M.I.A. in front of a backdrop of running refugees.

The recent release of Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam’s, better known as M.I.A., new single and subsequent music video “Borders” about the Syrian refugee crisis has grabbed Western audiences by the lapels and forced them to address a growing problem in the world.

When artists make political statements, it not only captures our attention, but it also brings newcomers — sometimes ill-informed — to the table.

Who could ever forget when Beyoncé flashed the word “feminist” on stage for the world to see?

In the current political climate, there’s been talk about whether artists, filmmakers and musicians should also act as a voice for the voiceless.

Nowadays, if you don’t have a charity, a cause or a movement, you’re kind of seen as a one-dimensional celebrity.

I’ve stated before in several columns we shouldn’t expect political leadership from our entertainers. However, when an artist like M.I.A. — who’s always made her music career political as a British-Sri Lankan — brings a thought-provoking viewpoint about a current issue, it’s a waste to ignore it.

“Borders” and its accompanying music video directed by the singer-songwriter is brilliant.

Lyrics like “borders,” “your privilege,” “police shots” and “boat people” are then echoed by the question, “What’s up with that?”

In the video, refugees clinging to a barbed-wire fence spell the word “life” with their bodies.

Later, they wear raincoats and create a human formation of a ship on the beach as M.I.A. sings among them.

And there are plenty of shots of M.I.A. sitting on an overcrowded boat, rocking in the sea.

The video ends with silence as refugees tread through water as they move toward the beach.

What M.I.A. has done with this video surpasses every half-assed “Wildest Dreams”-esqe music video pop artists have forced down our throats. Music is an escape, but Maya isn’t letting you run away from this one. The Syrian refugee crisis isn’t sexy, and M.I.A. hasn’t tried to make it that way. The video tells you to do more than “breaking Internet,” as mentioned in the song.

Here’s the deal: Artists shouldn’t be political because it’s cute or popular enough that they’ll gain more bandwagon fans. They should make statements and back causes because they care and it’s important.

And our constant badgering of artists to take a stand on issues they couldn’t care less about has only created faux opinions on significant problems. We didn’t demand a statement from M.I.A., but she gave it to us anyway.

In a recent tweet, she wrote, “The world I talked about 10 years ago is still the same. That’s why it’s hard for me to say it again on a new LP. Can you just play the old one.”

No, we haven’t been truly listening to M.I.A., and we haven’t been relying on the true leaders on important matters: ourselves.

The idea that matters are becoming too political is catastrophic. The individual is political. By choosing to opt out or stay indifferent, you’re a bystander condoning what you’re seeing and deciding to be silenced.

Why be a mute when you can form a perfectly sound voice?

Take M.I.A.’s warning seriously, and “don’t be dumb.” Instead “keep up on all that.”

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